Книга Perfume. The story of a murderer. Содержание - Forty-eight

Armed with these clues, two mounted troops had taken up pursuit of the murderer by noon of the same day, following the Mar6chaussee in the direction of Marseille-one along the coast, the other taking the inland road. The environs of La Napoule were combed by volunteers. Two commissioners from the provincial court at Grasse traveled to Nice to make inquiries about journeyman tanners. All ships departing from the ports of Frejus, Cannes, and Antibes were checked; the roads leading across the border into Savoy were blocked and travelers required to identify themselves. For those who could read, an arrest warrant and description of the culprit appeared on all the town gates of Grasse, Vence, and Gourdon, and on village church doors. Town criers made three announcements daily. The report of a suspected club-foot, of course, merely confirmed the view that the culprit was none other than the devil himself and tended more to arouse panic among the populace than to bring in useful information.

But only after the presiding judge of the court in Grasse had, on Richis’s behalf, offered a reward of no less than two hundred livres for information leading to the apprehension of the murderer did denunciations bring about the arrest of several journeyman tanners in Grasse, Opio, and Gourdon-one of whom indeed had the rotten luck of limping. They were already considering subjecting the man to torture despite a solid alibi supported by several witnesses, when, ten days after the murder, a man from the city watch appeared at the magistrate’s office and gave the following deposition: At noon on the day in question, he, Gabriel Tagliasco, captain of the guard, while engaged in his customary duties at the Porte du Cours, had been approached by an individual, who, as he now realized, fit the description in the warrant almost exactly, and had been questioned repeatedly and insistently concerning the road by which the second consul and his caravan had departed the city that same morning. He had ascribed no importance to the incident, neither then nor later, and would most certainly have been unable to recall the individual purely on the basis of his own memory-so thoroughly unremarkable was the man-had he not seen him by chance only yesterday, right here in Grasse, in the rue de la Louve, in front of the studio of Maitre Druot and Madame Arnulfi, on which occasion he had noticed that as the man walked back into the workshop he had a definite limp.

Grenouille was arrested an hour later. The innkeeper and his groom from La Napoule, who were in Grasse to identify the other suspects, immediately recognized him as the journeyman tanner who had spent the night with them: it was he, and no other— this must be the wanted murderer.

They searched the workshop, they searched the cabin in the olive grove behind the Franciscan cloister. In one comer, hardly hidden, lay the shredded nightgown, the undershirt, and the red hair of Laure Richis. And when they dug up the floor, piece by piece the clothes and hair of the other twenty-four girls came to light. The wooden club used to kill the victims was found, and the linen knapsack. The evidence was overwhelming. The order was given to toll the church bells. The presiding judge announced by proclamation and public notice that the infamous murderer of young girls, sought now for almost one year, had finally been captured and was in custody.


AT FIRST people did not believe the report. They assumed it was a ruse by which the officials were covering up their own incompetence and attempting to calm the dangerously explosive mood of the populace. People remembered only too well when the word had been that the murderer had departed for Grenoble. This time fear had set its jaws too firmly into their souls.

Not until the next day, when the evidence was displayed on the church square in front of the provost court-and it was a ghastly sight to behold, twenty-five garments with twenty-five crops of hair, all mounted like scarecrows on poles set up across the top of the square opposite the cathedral-did public opinion change.

Hundreds of people filed by the macabre gallery. The victims’ relatives would recognize the clothes and collapse screaming. The rest of the crowd, partly because they were sensation seekers, partly because they wanted to be totally convinced, demanded to see the murderer. The call soon became so loud, the unrest of the churning crowd in the small square so menacing, that the presiding judge decided to have Grenouille brought up out of his cell and to exhibit him at the window on the second floor of the provost court.

As Grenouille appeared at the window, the roar turned to silence. All at once it was as totally quiet as if this were noon on a hot summer day, when everyone is oat in the fields or has crept into the shade of his own home. Not a footfall, not a cough, not a breath was to be heard. The crowd was all eyes and one mouth agape, for minutes on end. Not a soul could comprehend how this short, paltry, stoop-shouldered man there at the window-this mediocrity, this miserable nonentity, this cipher-could have committed more than two dozen murders. He simply did not look like a murdefer. No one could have said just how he had imagined the murderer, the devil himself, ought to look, but they were all agreed: not like this! And nevertheless-although the murderer did not in the least match their conception, and the exhibition, one would presume, could not have been less convincing-simply because of the physical reality of this man at the window, because he and no other was presented to them as the murderer, the effect was paradoxically persuasive. They all thought: It simply can’t be true!-and at the very same moment knew that it had to be true.

To be sure, only after the guards had led the mannikin bade into the shadows of the room, only after he was no longer present and visible but existed, if for the briefest time, merely as a memory, one might almost say as a concept, the concept of an abominable murderer within people’s brains, only then did the crowd’s bewilderment subside and make away for an appropriate reaction: the mouths closed tight, the thousand eyes came alive again. And then there rang out as if in one voice a thundering cry of rage and revenge: “We want him!” And they set about to storm the provost court, to strangle him with their own hands, to tear him apart and scatter the pieces. It was all the guards could do to barricade the gate and force the mob back. Grenouille was promptly returned to his dungeon. The presiding judge appeared at the window and promised a trial remarkable for its swift and implacable justice. It took several hours, however, for the crowd to disperse, and several days for the town to quiet down to any extent.

The proceedings against Grenouille did indeed move at an extraordinarily rapid pace, not only because the evidence was overwhelming, but also because the accused himself freely confessed to all the murders charged against him.

But when asked about his motives, he had no convincing answer to give them. His repeated reply was that he had needed the girls and that was why he had slain them. What had he needed them for or what was that supposed to mean, “he needed them”?-to that he was silent. They then subjected him to torture, hanged him by his feet for hours, pumped him full of seven pints of water, put clamps on his feet-without the least success. The man seemed immune to physical pain, did not utter a sound, and when questioned again replied with nothing more than: “I needed them.” The judges considered him insane. They discontinued the torture and decided to bring the case to an end without further interrogation.

The only delay that occurred after that was a legal squabble with the magistrate of Draguignan, in whose jurisdiction La Napoule was located, and with the parliament in Aix, both of whom wanted to take over the trial themselves. But the judges of Grasse would not let the matter be wrested from them now. They were the ones who had arrested the culprit, the overwhelming majority of the murders had been committed in the area under their jurisdiction, and if they handed the murderer over to another court, there was the threat of the pent-up anger of the citizenry. His blood would have to flow in Grasse.

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